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The 1909 Checklist: Discovering Documents for Historical Research

  • Figure 1: List of Series and Monograph Titles in SuDoc Order.
  • As an historian myself, one of the foremost joys in doing research is the discovery of some little gem that will help you with your research. Usually such a treasure is found serendipitously, as so many researchers have discovered over a lifetime of work. Well, hopefully, you will not have to put the time and effort in seeking this little gem.

    The Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789-1909 (1909 Checklist) is a treasure trove for the historical researcher. This title, affectionately known as the 1909 Checklist, contains a myriad of information for titles published from 1789 to 1909. The title page indicates this is volume one, leading one to believe there is at least one other volume. In fact volume two, which was intended to be an index, was never produced.

    The print version of the 1909 Checklist is a small but compact maroon bound hard copy with nice yellowing paper which any researcher would just love to handle. The information included within its confines will excite most anyone in need of publications published by the Federal Government.

    The layout of the 1909 Checklist is an easy to use list of monograph and series titles arranged in call number order (see figure 1). If you are trying to find documents from the late 18th, 19th, and very early 20th centuries, this is the first place to stop.

  • Figure 2: Description of Rolls and Library Bureau.
  • The preface and introduction to the 1909 Checklist will tell you that this is the third edition of the Checklist. This is the most comprehensive of all the editions of the Checklist.

    The first edition was published in 1892 as List of Congressional Documents, 15th-51st Congresses, and of Government Publications Containing Debates and Proceedings of Congress, 1st-51st Congress, with Miscellaneous List of Public Documents, Historical and Bibliographical Notes as compiled by John G. Ames. This particular edition was 120 pages long. (1909 Checklist, pg. xi)

    When the Office of Superintendent of Documents (SuptDoc) was created in January 1895, Ames gave the SuptDoc his print copy of the 2nd edition of the Checklist. One of his biggest contributions to this edition was the “serial” numbering of the Congressional documents beginning with the 15h Congress. This edition was titled Checklist of Public Documents Containing Debates and Proceedings of Congress, 1st-53rd Congress with Miscellaneous Lists of Documents and Historical and Bibliographical Notes, 2nd edition revised and enlarged. This edition was 222 pages long and published in 1895. (1909 Checklist, pg.xi)

    Though not a separate edition of the 1909 Checklist, a title was published by the SuptDoc in 1902 called Tables and Annotated Index to the Congressional Series of United States Public Documents (Tables and Index). This title still had the serial set numbers from the 15th-52nd Congresses which revised this part of the 2nd edition of the Checklist. The title also included a 640
    page index and a table for the American State Papers. (1909 Checklist, pg. xii)

  • Figure 3: Digitized 1909 Checklist.
  • At the beginning of every agency section, the 1909 Checklist provides you with a little history about the creation and, in some cases, the demise of a department or agency (see Figure 2). I find these sections very interesting and helpful in tracking down titles as well as information about little known agencies.

    Knowing the 1909 Checklist is so very useful for discovering historical Government publications, and since the copy that we had in the library was deteriorating, I thought it would be useful to digitize it and make it available for all. This project was a two year effort for which I am very grateful to my student workers who digitized all 1,707 pages.

    So, in thinking about how to format a digital version of the 1909 Checklist, I wanted to ensure that it would not take too long to download. As a result, many files were created, but they are relatively small.

    The digital version of the 1909 Checklist was created in color in a PDF format so the discoloration of the pages could be seen, and, in some cases, the folds as well (some shadowing here and there). I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. It was also important to find a way to make it easy to use, so for the digital 1909 Checklist, I created an alphabetical search and a SuDocs call number search (see Figure 3).

  • Figure 4: 1909 Checklist Enhancement – Links to Online Content.
  • The alphabetical search pages have the name of each department and agency in a table format and the initial letter and number for the entity. The second column gives you the page numbers as found on the 1909 Checklist. The links for the departments include all publications for that department, i.e., all SuDoc stems for the department, resulting in larger files to download.

    The SuDocs call number search gives you the links to the pages in call number order. You will notice that not all letters are represented; there aren’t any "E" or "H" call numbers, for instance, since those department and agencies did not exist in 1909.

    As more Government agencies, colleges, universities, and organizations started digitizing Government publications and making them accessible online, I noticed that quite a few fell under the time period of the 1909 Checklist. All of a sudden it was no longer a static publication, rather it would continue to grow as organizations and institutions digitized titles from their collections. This is a nice way to enhance the document. So, from time to time, you will see links to online content, like the Fisheries Bureau’s Bulletin of the Bureau of Fisheries (see Figure 4) or the Bureau of American Ethnology’s Annual Reports.

    Another enhancement to the 1909 Checklist was the addition of the history of an agency, detailing its establishment, any name changes that may have occurred over time, and anything else that would be pertinent to a researcher in helping them find Federal agency publications they need.

    Carlos A. Diaz, U.S. Documents Specialist, Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.

    There is no doubt that the Internet has made the 1909 Checklist a continual living site. It will continue to grow to become a better, more useful research and discovery tool. And it will be a necessary site to bookmark for anyone wanting to find Government publications produced before 1910. I hope you and your patrons find the site useful.


    Carlos A. Diaz is the U.S. Documents Specialist at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.

    Diaz has been working in libraries for over 20 years and over 15 years have been focused on Government documents. He is happy to relate that he uses his bachelor’s degree in American History from Louisiana State University every day.

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